The Still Room of Quiet

I like to think of the 1950s and early 60s as some kind of wonderful “Pleasantville” experience. I imagine I’d wear my letterman’s jacket, do well in school, and come home in time for cookies, milk, and an early bedtime. It would all be so well ordered and clear. Recently, I found a box of slides at my grandparents’ house. I sent it out to be digitized and was rather alarmed when I looked at them on screen. They must have been taken around 1963. There is an image of President Kennedy’s funeral on the television. Some of the photos are at my great grandparents’ anniversary party. Others are at an unknown social event.

The upside is the television tray usage. I still have those TV trays. I use them at home, but didn’t realize they were appropriate for a party. Now I see how handy they can be. The downside is the subtext in every image of restrained frustration. Nobody looks comfortable. Everyone looks like they could use a stiff martini. I imagine the polite chatter, “Bob, how’s your golf game these days,” “Betty, I loved the coffee cake,” “Could you be more proud of Sherman, valedictorian?” But I’ve seen enough movies to know that everyone goes home drinks too much, cries, and screams. I hope. Otherwise there’s a whole lot o’ suppressed issues here.

This is a glimpse into the reality of the late 1950s. There was no room for differences or individuality. God forbid someone was African-American, Asian, gay, or just a little odd. Somehow this seems obvious on an episode of American Experience, but these slides made it real for me. It clarified why, several years later, my parents dropped out and moved to the Haight. And why there was so much tension between my parents and my grandparents, and I was somewhere in the middle.

 

The Path to Hell

Here is a list of things one can do that will ensure that he or she will go to hell (beside the obvious such as murder):

  1. Use any Photoshop filter
  2. Use Live Trace
  3. Use Garamond Bold (or any old-style serif bold)
  4. De-saturate an image because it seems too strong
  5. Use a typeface that looks like handwriting

The faux-handwriting typeface is especially egregious. First, they are fugly. Second, the designer is lazy. Third, God gave people opposable thumbs so they could use their hands to write. If people were meant to only draw with a vector pen tool, or write with the fake handwriting type, we could have hooves like a cow and poke at the keyboard with a pen in our mouth.

Bad, bad, bad, and bad

Bad, bad, bad, and bad

When I show young designers work created by hand, such as Ed Fella's or Pablo Picasso's posters, they often say, "it looks hand-drawn. shouldn't it be vector?" or "my child could have done that." But the point is, your child didn't make that loose and spontaneous drawing of a bull or Ella Fitzgerald singing.

So, when tempted to use the brush tool in Illustrator rather than taking the time to pull out a piece of paper and use your actual hands, then scanning it, remember that you may go to hell.
 

Ed Fella, 1998


Below, Pablo Picasso, 1959–1970

Portrait of Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, by Irving Penn, 1957

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Christmas Dammit!

At Christmas, most of my friends and family understand that I don't like having too much stuff. Flags and cacti are usually a safe bet. But every once in awhile someone will buy me one of those odd "designer-like" objects like an over-designed corkscrew. A few years ago, my friend Jan Fleming gave me one of my favorite gifts ever, the Deer Crest card catalogue.

I keep it out all year long because I love the cover so much. The inside has multiple pages with individual cards that can be ordered in bulk. I imagine this is what someone did in 1960; go to Montgomery Ward, sit with a salesperson, and go through the catalogue, "Oh yes, that card with the evil Satan Santa will be lovely this year. I'll order 200 please."

I would never be able to choose one. There are too many wonderful cards. The script on the interior of the cards is incredible. Each card has a special technique, such as lots of real gold stars pasted down to make a Christmas Tree, plastic jewels, or acetate overlays. I don't understand some of them. I mistook the ones with baby angels as dead babies. Santa Claus seems a little scary in some, especially the terrifying demon Jack in the Box.

It's incredible how denominational it is. There are no Hanukkah cards. There is nothing neutral such as a Happy New Year card or snowy scene that simply reads "Happy Holidays". The catalogue is clear, "It's Christmas, bitches!"

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Alla buona derrata, pensaci su.

I like Switzerland. It's hellishly expensive and a beer costs $20, but as they say, the trains run on time and the design is nice. Once  in awhile a young designer will ask me, "Don't you think everything would be better if there were standards for all signage and information. Maybe everything could be in Univers?" But, that would end up recreating Switzerland. I like the weird hand-drawn signs on my neighborhood botanica, and the awful use of Hobo at the Boho Café.

Max Huber managed to marry the elegance and simplicity of Swiss modernism with the vibrancy and expression of play. He was born in Switzerland, then emigrated to Italy. The Italian spirit of la vita e bella (life is beautiful) wove its way into Huber's Swiss grids and black and red color palette. His work has joy, exuberance, and a touch of chaos. Like a day in Rome. The colors are vibrant, pure, and aggressive.

I didn't know Max Huber. He died in 1992. But I imagine a dinner with him to be filled with too much wine, wonderful stories, and risqué jokes. I like Herbert Bayer too, but I don't think dinner with him would have been as fun.

Words and No Pictures

Designers often ask me what I look for in a portfolio. I always look at typography. There are a million decisions and variables in type. If someone can manipulate the complex issues of legibility, form, scale, and meaning with combinations of 26 letters, and create something wonderful, they can probably manage any project. But what makes good typography? It’s not about choosing beautifully drawn typefaces (but that’s a big part), or setting everything at 4 point (some of us like to read the words). It isn’t about maintaining a rigid Swiss structure (but that’s a good place to start). It’s about making a dynamic, exciting, and meaningful experience.

I’ve seen solutions that are incredibly elegant, but make no sense. A refined cut of Didot is probably not needed for a poster about seal clubbing (the animals and blood, not the musician and nightclubs). I don’t like typography that's just nice. There’s enough boring stuff to look at already. If the type is classical and elegant, it should be so beautiful that you want to throw up. If the subject, such as The Angry Black South needs simple communication, let it be just that: simple communication. I like to think of typography as pictures of words. Which makes the statement, A picture is worth a thousand words,” a very complex math problem.

I was a Teenage Teenager

When you are old, you take for granted that others know what you are discussing. This is, of course, not correct. When I make a joke in the office about Gidget and get blank stares, I know I've crossed that line. Last week, I recapped the entire plot of the movie Where the Boys Are after I found that nobody had seen it. I won't go into depth here. It's not an like the Bourne Identity with multiple plot twists and turns. A group of college coeds go to Fort Lauderdale for spring beak. They share a motel room. The see lots of half naked boys. They sit on the beach that is clearly in a sound stage. Paula Prentiss is the tall girl. She says, "Do you still find me strangely attractive?" This is a good line on any date. Connie Francis sings the theme song "Where the Boys Are." George Hamilton is the super tan rich playboy. Yvette Mimieux is the naive youngest girl. There are good tips for clothing such as Jim Hutton's very cool straw hat.

The one plot twist that made no sense to me was Yvette Mimieux's bad date. She goes out one night with a boy we know is not chivalrous. I think he has sex with her, but he may have just tried kissing her. The film is rather vague here. Nothing violent has occurred. Something has happened, however. The episode leaves Mimieux in a hospital bed catatonic. We are left to imagine that her date is so bad or remarkable at love-making that she is left senseless. Or she has a horrible secret, such as disgusting full body Wolverine scars, that are discovered and that leaves her senseless. Or she has had plain old teenage sex.

The activities are unclear, but the message to all young people is clear: if you are a woman and have relations with a boy you will end up catatonic in a hospital. If you are a boy who has relations with a young lady you will be forced to flee town in shame after she becomes catatonic. For any teens reading this post, I assure you, this is true.

 

 

Echo and one Funny Man

It's a sad fact that many of us were forced to buy a record at a record store, go home, listen to the one song you liked, and then hate the rest of the album. But, tough luck. That was how the world worked pre-digital music downloads. Horrible. Today, I can create my own playlist, ignore the crap songs on the rest of an album, and even take a walk while listening.

In 1960, however, true interactive music media was invented. Echo magazine was a "magazine you play on your phonograph." Pretty cool. You could read an article, and play a record bound into the publication. This made magazines seem stupid because they didn't have sound, and records equally dumb, because they only had liner notes. Boring.

Unfortunately, a magazine/record didn't catch on in 1960. In reality, the issue could have been manufacturing related. I have this issue, and I'll be damned if I can figure out how to separate the record from the pages. I don't want to put the whole magazine on the turntable and flip around. The cover may also have added to the confusion. Only today, did I realize that it's a representation of a phonograph player. For years, I thought it was someone's arm and hand who was very shaky.

Everyday is like sun day

When I start talking about identity design, everyone loses his or her sense of humor. “Logos? That’s no laughing matter,” is the tone. There’s no room for funny in logo design or ID systems. Don’t you people understand this is a serious business? Of course it’s serious business. It’s the cornerstone and foundation of a company’s communications plan. But does that mean every logo should be a hard lined box with a tortured letterform, and a system with a vertical blue bar on every piece of collateral? I would say, “No.” Communications should engage and delight. That applies to identity design as well as a website, brochure, or signage program.

A great example of this approach is Alexander Girard’s design for La Fonda del Sol restaurant. In 1960, Restaurant Associates hired Girard to oversee all elements from the logo to the plates. Located in the Time & Life building in New York, La Fonda del Sol embraced the international ambitions of Rockefeller Center. Girard’s identity is varied and uses a multiple set of icons. What, you say, more than one logo? Was he mad? I don’t know about Girard’s psychological health, but it works for me. The restaurant paired the hand-made, craft of Mexico with a high-end and cosmopolitan tone. The solution was years ahead of a tongue-in-cheek tone now used by Jet Blue and Virgin Air. I especially like the newspaper ad that reads, “Will the lady who lost her composure during Fiesta at La Fonda del Sol please come back this Sunday?” I’m not so sure about the completely non-politically correct Siesta ad.

On Finding Obscure

I feel sorry for the people who work with me. It must seem that I have a remarkable memory for an obscure design solution from 1960, but I can’t remember their names. And I can only nod and pretend I know what they are talking about, when they discuss new music. You know, that rock and roll.

I found myself referring someone to a beautiful poster designed by the master, Ryuichi Yamashiro in 1960. It’s an appeal fort the Japanese Cancer Society, and remarkably pairs multiple images in a concise composition. At the same time, I suggested a cute ad for a knitting mill, a catalogue spread by Erik Nitsche, and a shoe company poster from Germany. What do these have in common? They were all designed around 1960. Other than that, I don’t know. And I imagine they had no connective tissue for the person that I told to find them. They’re used to that, though. The designers who work with me always politely find the example, put it on their desk, and smile when I walk by. Then they look at each other and roll their eyes. I’m sure of it.

Secret Love

1963 Cadillac

My family never had a Cadillac. My grandparents always had a beige or brown Mercedes, and the Wagoneer, "Old Blue," at the ranch. My father stuck with the Mercedes thing except for a detour in the late 1960s and the requisite VW bus. Other friends' families had Cadillacs. I coveted them and was deeply jealous. The Mercedes was nice and staid, and said, "Please. We're not flashy." But a yellow Cadillac said, "What the hell, let's have drinks and get into trouble." When you're 13, this sounds far better. Now the unfortunate part of this is that by the time I could buy a Cadillac they were, forgive me, ugly. For awhile I considered buying a vintage one and researched every year and make. Like most of us, I've been conditioned too well. It sounds like a swell plan, but when the time came to head to the vintage car auction, I thought, "well, they really are kind of flashy."

For me, 1964 was the pinnacle year. The fins were still in place, but had lost the trashy factor of the 1959 model. The profile is clean and almost a perfect rectangle. It's sleek and clean. It's probably a good thing that I'm not the CEO at GM. If I were, I'd be retooling and pumping out 1964 Cadillac Eldorados. If they worked like a new car and had all the features we now want, like seat belts, who wouldn't want one? And if they were all over the road, I wouldn't feel too flashy in mine.

1964 Cadillac Eldorado

1962 Cadillac Eldorado

1960 Cadillac Eldorado

1959 Cadillac, too flashy